The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia - more commonly known as simply Saudi Arabia - is the biggest Arab country in the Middle East. With the largest oil reserves in the world, Saudi Arabia is the global leader in oil production – responsible for one tenth of the entire world’s supply.
Saudi Arabia's construction sector grew by nearly 5% in 2009, according to data from the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency. The country has many multi-billion dollar projects underway, and more in the planning stages across both the public and private sectors.
The country’s 2010 budget set by government includes an unprecedented $69.3 billion (SR260 billion) for new and existing infrastructure projects in power generation, construction and transportation.
This includes the construction and development of four new universities in Dammam, Alkharj, Majma, and Shaqra, along with new polytechnic colleges and vocational institutes. The government has also allocated funds to build 92 new hospitals, and around 1.5 million residential homes to accommodate a rapidly rising population set to exceed 26 million within the next three years.
Saudi Arabia also has four new Economic Cities - fully planned and under construction - where up to five million residents will live, work and play. Each will be an exciting metropolis, designed to maximise investment potential and deliver huge advantage to businesses located there.
Saudi Arabia: What to expect
The population of Saudi Arabia is around 23 million; with some 6 million thought to be foreign nationals working overseas. The official language is Arabic, although English is widely spoken across the country. Of those who took part in a recent CareerStructure.com survey, over 90% of international candidates speak English and 25% Arabic – having dual linguistic skills will certainly help if you decide to relocate to Saudi.
Islamic laws are observed very strictly throughout Saudi Arabia, including not eating pork and not drinking alcohol. If you decide to relocate here, you’ll be confronted with a new way of life that you’ll need to learn about. But it’s the same for any overseas destination - being prepared will help you ease in without too many surprises.
Getting a residence visa in Saudi Arabia is a more complicated process than Abu Dhabi or Dubai in the UAE for example. You’ll need to allow enough time to produce and process the relevant paperwork. First, it’s necessary to secure an employment contract with a sponsor firm and present this to the immigration authorities - either yourself via the embassy in the UK, or via your employer in Saudi. A full medical examination may be required when you apply.
Something you’ll also need to be aware of: Saudi Arabia conforms to the Islamic calendar of Hijra. Take extra care to note the date on your visa - overstaying by even one day can lead to fines and further delays.
Living in Saudi: The essentials
For construction professionals, finding somewhere to live in Saudi Arabia shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. Often, major international building companies operate housing compounds for expat workers as well as having long-term lease properties at their disposal. It will depend on your employer, but accommodation may well come as part of your role package.
The cost of living for most expats in Saudi Arabia is fairly similar to the UK, although no income tax means salaries go that little bit further. Opening a bank account is relatively straightforward too; you must present the relevant documents such as a visa/work permit, address and proof of employment. Day to day financial transactions in Saudi are often cash- rather than card-based, unlike in the UK.
Healthcare is a very good standard, with a state system in place for nationals and public sector expats. However it is mandatory to have some form of medical insurance. Again, your new employer may well offer this as part of a remuneration package, but it’s very important to check and make your own arrangements if not.
If your children are travelling to Saudi with you, allocating funds for schooling should be a consideration before you leave. The state education system does not accept foreign nationals, however there are several international schools catering for the expat community. Demand is high, so it is best to apply as early as possible to secure a place.
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